The American Booksellers Association (ABA) released an update last week detailing new “oversight” to prevent accidentally promoting conservative authors.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, the ABA, a 121-year-old trade association that ostensibly advocates for free expression and independent bookstores, sends out book lists and review copies of select new titles for retailers to consider stocking.
In July, the organization mistook a social-justice-themed teen romance titled “Blackout,” for Candace Owens’ best-selling book, “Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation,” sending out a cover image of Owens’ book to approximately 750 stores. The group also included publicity copies of Abigail Shrier’s “Irreversible Damage,” a work critical of the gender transition trend among teen girls.
When leftwing shop-owners and activists erupted in outrage, ABA CEO Allison Hill immediately apologized for the “horrific harm” the mailing caused, calling it a “serious, violent incident.” She also described Owens’ book as “racist.”
Hill then assured retailers that the ABA was putting new procedures in place to prevent future similar mistakes.
On August 5, the ABA released the findings of its internal audit and updated members on how plans for their new “diversity, equity, and inclusion” process are progressing
In a letter reprinted in full at Publishers Weekly, Hill explained that a fill-in staffer mistakenly chose the wrong cover image for “Blackout” and a second employee neglected to double-check that the photo matched the title.
“It was a terrible mistake with terrible racist implications,” Hill said, continuing, “However, based on our investigation and the demonstrated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitment of these individuals, we have no reason to believe the action was malicious in intention.”
She then assured associated bookstores that ABA employees are suitably remorseful for the mistake and have been appropriately disciplined:
“The employees are very apologetic and very committed to vigilance going forward. They have been held accountable and have agreed to training, both on procedures as well as on DEI, and we have added layers of checks and balances to this process.”
Of Shrier’s book, Hill said in the past, the ABA’s process for selecting books for monthly publicity mailings was simply “pay-to-play.”
“The box mailing has been an effective mailing service for publishers, ABA, and booksellers. Publishers pay ABA to include titles in the box, and ABA sends it to eligible bookstores” she said, adding, “Until now, no one has ever reviewed or screened the titles submitted by publishers.”
Though Hill admitted many ABA members would still prefer the ABA not pre-screen the books they send out, she said the organization will nevertheless henceforth weed out titles that fail to adhere to the group’s “equity and inclusion policy.”
That policy requires ABA procedures to be “antiracist” and “demonstrate support for marginalized Peoples,” as well as “[represent] BIPOC [black, indigenous, people of color], queer, disabled, and other marginalized authors and books at all ABA events (at least 40% of speakers/panelists overall).” It also stipulates that the ABA will “meet as staff throughout the year to discuss topics and educate ourselves on issues related to antiracism, antidiscrimination, microaggressions, and supporting underrepresented Peoples.”
Other new actions Hill promised the ABA will take immediately included donating money to transgender and minority groups and adding queer history lessons to the staff training calendar. Hill’s new checklist includes:
- Conduct an in-house audit of all ABA systems and programs (in progress), reviewing everything through a DEI lens and ensuring that strong checks and balances are in place …
- Create a new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access Membership Manager position that is responsible for outreach to and support of marginalized members, as well as West Coast members in general. (Membership team members have responsibilities in addition to supporting specific regions.) The job listing will be posted next week. This position will support BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Two-Spirit, and Disabled members; conduct outreach to ABA members and non-ABA members of those communities; convey the needs of marginalized members to ABA staff; communicate educational programming ideas to support these communities; participate on ABA’s DEI Committee; and help review scholarship nominations for ABA conferences;
- Add a new Copyeditor position (job listing will be posted next week) responsible for copyediting and proofreading all content and communication for members, reviewing for conscious language and an awareness of equity and inclusion issues;
- Beginning in October, hold a quarterly LGBTQIA+ forum between members and ABA staff for booksellers and bookstore owners in the LGBTQIA+ community to have the opportunity to communicate concerns and express their needs (similar to the already existing quarterly BIPOC forum);
- Add an annual session on Queer history and activism to ABA’s staff equity training calendar (slated for fall);
- Purchase 100 copies of Blackout for its authors, Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon — 600 copies total — to distribute as they wish (in process);
- Donate $5,000 to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (in process). This organization, suggested by members impacted by the recent incident, provides legal support for name changes, advocacy for health insurance coverage for the needs of trans individuals, and pursues legal cases seeking to expand transgender civil rights.
Hill finished, “[We] know it will take time to rebuild trust within our community. We hope our progress will be evident as we show receipts going forward.”
The Daily Wire reached out to the ABA about their new oversight process and whether it conflicts with their public commitment to free expression and, specifically, their “Banned Book Weeks” event that “celebrates freedom to read,” but did not receive a timely response.